Waldrom joins party at last while Easter makes strides in fitness fight

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The Independent Online

Thomas Waldrom, the latest New Zealander to declare himself an Englishman, is not known as "Thomas the Tank Engine" because of his lightning pace, so it was appropriate that Martin Johnson should take his time in deciding whether to draft the No 8 into his World Cup squad on a formal basis. As of yesterday, though, the Leicester forward is a fully-fledged member of the party.

The manager finally made up his mind four days after Waldrom had been summoned to his homeland as cover for the injured Nick Easter. Not that he is replacing Easter. The Harlequins back-rower missed the pool matches against Georgia and Romania with back trouble and is still not fit to train, but England have had a vacancy since the prop Andrew Sheridan returned home with another of his shoulder injuries. So Johnson can keep Easter here and still draft Waldrom as a replacement.

"Nick is making good progress," said Johnson, who also reported that the prop Matt Stevens is showing signs of recovering from a sprained ankle. "But with Thomas now out here it makes sense to get him into the squad officially so he can join in with training. We also owe it to Leicester to make a decision."

Waldrom, born a few miles from the New Zealand capital Wellington but available to England through an English grandmother, was part of Johnson's original 45-man training squad but fell in the first cull.

Many had believed the Gloucester No 8 Luke Narraway should have been given the chance to impress during the summer camp, or perhaps the Northampton back-rower Phil Dowson. But the manager likes Waldrom's power game, believing he might be the right kind of player to make things happen off the bench.

Meanwhile, the tournament organisers will take no action against England over the latest problem with balls. During the weekend's easy victory over Romania, Jonny Wilkinson twice rejected a ball ahead of a shot at the sticks, apparently in contravention of the laws.

"England were warned at half-time as they were attempting to use a different ball for kicks at goal,"said a World Cup official. "For a conversion attempt, they were supposed to use the ball with which they scored the try. It happened twice and they were told to desist, which they did."

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